France & Germany

Last day in France. Weather has been very nice, mid-70s most of the time with only a few drops of rain. Bought a 3-day all-everything pass when I got here, so I’ve been buzzing around town by Metro, bus and RER (train).  It’s May, so the crowds are here in force.  I’ve been staying at a hotel– the Renaissance Vendome, a Marriott property where I have received royal treatment due to my Platinum status– near the Louvre, but more importantly near the Rue de Rivoli/Rue St. Honore area, a Right Bank locale chock full of fancy shops and stylish cafes and restaurants that I’ve had fun exploring. Being most impressed with my Platinum status, Front Desk Clerk Pauline insisted after my first day that I move to a more special room on the 5th floor, a corner junior suite with views of the Paris rooftops, and Concierge Marie Caroline greeted me each evening with a map with a little yellow post-it pointing out the name and street address of my restaurant reservation, the nearest Metro stop and a ZOOM picture of the restaurant’s neighborhood for my ease in navigating. Where possible, she also supplied me with a copy of the restaurant’s website menu.
Had a free day on Thursday, so devoted the day to an outing to Versailles (included on my all-day pass) where I had never been in all my trips here.  It was as impressive as advertised, although when you’ve seen the palaces in Vienna and St.Petersburg and the Vatican et al, you get a little jaded, so there’s a tendency not to be overwhelmed. HUGE crowds took little away from the spectacle. On Friday I went up to Chantilly for the races. 
Chantilly is 35 miles and 300 years away from Paris.  After arriving on the train, I followed the local tracksters (obvious from the Paris Turf racing forms under their arms) for the mile-and-a-half walk out of the village and through a local forest to the racetrack. The Hippodrome de Chantilly is a sparkling new facility of glass and sandstone set among acres of green grass that resembles a carpet, the grounds surrounded by impressive chateaux and period buildings. Shockingly, it is tiny…capacity maybe 2000, with an estimated 400-500 there on the day I was there, and 500 of those were little school kids on a Friday outing (didn’t have outings to River Downs when I was a kid). It was like being at a private party. Won a few races so kept my head above water.  It might have been a quaint setting, but the crowd there, as everywhere, was essentially composed of “trackees,” the slightly disreputable-looking crowd former Chicago Tribune racing columnist Dave Feldman used to call Beaten Down Horseplayers. Looked like transplants from Santa Anita to me. All in all, a very fun outing.
Have been dining at various of the restaurants on my Warner Henry list (his list of great “local” restaurants which most resemble Pie ‘n Burger– no Michelin stars allowed).  The best by far is the newest one on his hit list– Frenchie, a tiny 16-table bistro run by an English guy and his American girlfriend. According the my concierge, the hardest reservation in town; mine was made over a month prior. Set menu with two choices of starter, main course and dessert, and every bite delicious.  By 7:15 the place was entirely full, with another 30 or so people waiting across the alley in the Frenchie wine bar for openings. Other dinners were at Le Troquet and Balzar, standbys from the old Warner list where Mom and I have eaten before.Oh, by the way, the newest culinary rage in Paris? The Cheeseburger! It’s on the menu of every restaurant and brasserie in town.  Every window you peek through reveals diners champing down on big, messy, gooey cheeseburgers.
Today/tonight is a travel day. Heading to Cologne, where tomorrow I’ll be at the races there. Staying two nights there, then going to Frankfurt for a final day and night before flying home on Tuesday.
A great day at the races on Sunday, a sunny but cool day. Weidenpesch, the racetrack in Cologne, sits mid-city, about a 10 minute tram ride out from the center. Because of its location in a residential area, it’s slightly reminiscent of Belmont, i.e., a leafy oasis set among blue collar apartments and homes– that is, except in size. Compared to Belmont’s 75,000 capacity, Weidenpesch’s facility holds 10,000 tops– about 4,000 of them in three little pavilions that from the race track, the rest standees on the wide and deep lawn that fronts the track. Pretty much a full crowd were on hand on Sunday,very much a family crowd, young and old, with little or no sign of the usual dissolute characters who routinely inhabit racetracks. Reminiscent of Saratoga with its festive atmosphere, the “front” yard of the track featured a wide array of stands offering an awesome variety of eats– brats, waffles, potato pancakes, currywurst (a German favorite, consisting of slices of wurst covered with a souce of some sort and sprinkled with curry powder…definitely the crowd favorite), hand-carved ham and pork, and my favorite, a delectable item called frikadeller mit broochen (sp?), sort of like a spicy meatloaf on a roll. Mmmm…mmmm. Note that at Weidenpesch, we’re dealing with third-tier racing, nothing like Chantilly with world-famous jockeys and trainers dealing with quality horses; these were all no-names (except for one, a jockey named A. Starke who has ridden in several Breeders Cup races) riding rather mediocre horses in 5000 Euro races, but nevertheless the races were for the most part hotly contested and featured nose-to=nose stretch drives. Won a couple (mostly betting on Starke horses), lost a couple.The whole experience was uplifting, being around smiling people for whom a day at the races was a time to have fun and eat a lot and enjoy the day.
Today, Monday, I took the train down to Frankfurt in the morning, then spent the day exploring the town. Highlights: (a) Occupy Frankfurt, which has taken over a large city park with hundreds of teepees and tents and characters straight out of the Haight-Ashbury, and (b) the May Wine Festival in a part of town called Romertown. I’m going back to Romertown as soon as I finish this email to try some of the local specialties at the various booths in the square. To take continuing advantage of my Marriott Platinum status and access to their Executive Lounges, last night I stayed at the Marriott Cologne and tonight I’m at the Marriott Frankfurt– both big box hotels filled with businessmen and their iPhones and computers, both rather deadly.
Time to head down to Romertown.